An activist convicted of inciting vandalism at Toronto's G20 summit says she wouldn't hesitate to do the same thing again, even as she stared down a 16-month jail sentence.
Last fall, Amanda Hiscocks pleaded guilty to counselling to obstruct police and counselling to commit mischief. In the months leading up to the G20 summit, she helped develop a "target list" of appropriate places for protests, drafted a call-out for an action that encouraged property damage, and suggested people obstruct police officers' vision by spraying their visors with paint.
She was arrested early on the morning of June 26, 2010, hours before a group of protesters broke off from an anti-G20 labour march to smash store windows and burn police cars.
Standing before Mr. Justice Lloyd Budzinski at her sentencing on Friday, Ms. Hiscocks offered no apology for her actions and instead used the opportunity to criticize the criminal justice system and engage the judge in a lengthy debate about the merit of confrontational protests.
Those who know her say they would expect nothing less from the veteran activist, whose radical politics over the past 17 years have led her to establish squats, distribute free food on the street and plan countless demonstrations in several cities.
With a raucous crowd of supporters yelling and banging on the walls of an adjacent courtroom as she spoke, Ms. Hiscocks told Judge Budzinski that the justice system is illegitimate because of problems like racial profiling and the difficulty poor people face in defending themselves.
"Throughout the farcical legal proceeding that ends today, we've been told that we are fighting the rule of law. If so, then good," she said. "Our society is racist and colonial. It is rooted in wealth and power and so is the rule of law that upholds it."
The judge jumped in several times to argue that the problems she described are already being discussed and addressed.
Speaking to a reporter before she was sentenced, Ms. Hiscocks called the actions of the G20 vandals "justifiable." But she stopped short of advocating for them directly, saying it was up to individual protesters to decide how they behave on the streets.
"The whole idea of organizing on a diversity of tactics strategy is that people can make their own decisions," Ms. Hiscocks said. "It's about respect for peoples' autonomy."
Clad in a brown hooded sweatshirt and carrying a Minute Maid bottle full of water, Ms. Hiscocks said confrontational protests can be useful if they help people who are disenfranchised stand up to governments and corporations.
"What [a militant protest]does that other kinds of actions can't do, is that I think it empowers people," she said. "They're able to feel like they can stand up to this huge force and just be like, 'No, you can't scare us with your gas, you can't scare us with your guns.'"
Ms. Hiscocks was among 17 people initially charged with conspiracy after undercover police officers infiltrated their activist groups over the course of a year and a half.
In a plea deal negotiated last fall, the charges against 11 of the activists were dropped, while Ms. Hiscocks and five others pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Ms. Hiscocks has a long history as an anti-poverty and environmental activist. While pursuing a science degree at the University of Guelph in the 1990s, she was active both on campus and in the community. But unlike most students, she didn't leave the city when her degree was over.
"People often do four years, they graduate, they go off to another university or another way of earning a living," said Edward Pickersgill, who runs a drop-in centre for youth and helps people find affordable housing in Guelph. "Mandy stuck around, and it's one of the things those of us who are not from the university appreciate about her."
He said the two met campaigning against cuts to social services under Ontario's Mike Harris government. Ms. Hiscocks has been arrested several times before and had a mischief and a breach of probation conviction on her record before the G20 began.
In 2002, she participated in the so-called "Seven Year Squat," occupying a vacant Ottawa house while its owner was away and refusing to leave when police evicted her and the others. The group defended themselves at a subsequent trial that resulted in a hung jury.
"She has a long-distance, marathon approach to the organizing she does," Mr. Pickersgill said. "I have a lot of admiration and respect for her."
On Friday, Crown attorney Jason Miller said Ms. Hiscocks's motivations are irrelevant to her case because her actions were illegal. "If you believe you can break the law because your cause is just, you will be prosecuted and you will go to prison," he said.
During most of the 18 months since the activists' arrests, they were placed on strict bail conditions that prevented them from communicating with one another, planning or attending other demonstrations.
Ms. Hiscocks moved to a suburb of Ottawa, where a relative acted as her surety. The move isolated her from friends in Guelph and interfered with her job as a volunteer co-ordinator at the University of Guelph's Ontario Public Interest Research Group, she said.
Alex Hundert, 31, appeared in the same court on Friday but his sentencing – for the same convictions – was held over. He expects to face 13½ months for helping develop the target list and teaching activists how to "de-arrest" people by snatching them away from police during a protest.
In an interview outside of court, he said he believes the Crown pursued its case against G20 protest organizers more vigorously because of their political ideology.
"Despite [the Crown's]insistence to the contrary, I think a big part of what they got out of this was to send a message far and wide that political action and dissent, when it can be brought under the spectre of the criminal justice system, will be prosecuted politically," he said.
Ms. Hiscocks said she intends to return to Guelph when her sentence is finished and continue the work she has done for years.
"I imagine I'm going to learn a lot in prison and meet a lot of people whose struggles are different than the ones I'm used to working with," she said. "My intention now is to go back to Guelph and do the same stuff, but better."